(Wenham) The Scots found their shooting touch in the second half and held off Nichols, 65-50, in Commonwealth Coast Conference action at the Bennett Center on Saturday afternoon.
The Fighting Scots are now 15-6 overall but more important are 7-2 in the CCC. There are four games left on their league schedule with the first three on the road starting with Colby-Sawyer on Tuesday night.
I asked Nichols coach Dave Sokolnicki about the league. “There is great parity in the league this year. You just don’t know how it will come out.”
In this afternoon’s game those on hand knew little about how it would come out after some pitiful shooting (or was it great defense?) in the first half. The teams combined to miss 38 of the 54 shots attempted. Remarkably, Gordon made a couple of 3’s early (Justin Kaufman (senior-5′11″-Redding CT) and Brady Bajema (sophomore-6′2″-Whitinsville MA)) and then in the next six minutes, with ten possessions, scored nothing!
But Gordon had the lead, 23-21, at the half and to Coach Mike Schauer that was important. “I told the team at halftime that it was a big deal that we were ahead. Normally if you shoot the ball as we had done, you’re going to be down ten to fifteen points. I thought that eventually we would make some shots. This is our home gym.”
Sure enough, more shots did fall for the Scots in the second half (12 for 27 – 44.4%). Nichols, on the other hand, continued to struggle (9 for 24 – 37.5%).
“Our Achilles Heel all season has been scoring,” explained Coach Sokolnicki. “We have the talent to score but we just aren’t doing it.” The Bison’s field goal percentage is the lowest in the CCC and it did not get any better at the Bennett Center.
The Bisons may have lost but there was plenty of talk afterwards about senior Chris Vallee. He tallied his team’s first eight points and was a nightmare matchup for Coach Schauer. “You need an Aaron Vogelzang type kid to guard him. He is not only a good player but also a very nice kid. He’s one of my favorite opponents.”
Chris poured in 25 points for the game mostly from in close. He also had a lot of us worried when he got into a nasty collision with Mike Schnackenberg (senior-6′6″-South Portland ME) in front of the Nichols bench chasing a loose ball early in the second half. He was down for several minutes. Later he returned to action with a patch over his eye and managed to find ways to come up with 13 points the rest of the way.
Unfortunately, for the visitors their offense was limited to Chris Vallee. The Scots ended up with four players in double figures including a season high (14) from Jeff Derr (sophomore-6′8″-Barrington IL).
“I have yelled at Jeff as much as I know how,” said Coach Schauer afterwards. “He is a really special offensive player – more than he realizes. He’s so big down low and he can shoot the ball. He can also make free throws (22-of-24). Yesterday we literally stopped practice and the whole team ran because Jeff was passing up shots. It was nice to see him feel comfortable enough to take ten shots. He needs to realize that his shooting can really help us. We don’t win this game if Jeff doesn’t have an afternoon like this.”
Mike Schnackenberg had never had a double/double before the last game (Husson). Now he has done it two games in a row (10 rebounds/10 points). You would not have expected the happy ending after he missed all three shots attempted in the first half and his first two free throw attempts in the second half. However, after an Aaron Trigg (sophomore-6′1″-Overland Park KS) steal he ended up on the jamming end of a lob pass from Justin Kaufman.
That jam at 16:35 gave Gordon a 31-25 lead and really put a spark into Gordon’s cheering section. Nearly five minutes later the Scots put together six unanswered points on layups by Jeff and Mike and a jumper by Justin Kaufman. This put Gordon ahead 43-30 with 11:50 left.
As mentioned earlier, Nichols has struggled shooting all season. Playing catch up is a whole lot easier when you can score three points at a time. The Bisons missed all four long-range attempts in the second half.
The turning point in the game was a three that Jon Marstaller (senior-6′5″-Naples ME) made with 5:37 left. It was vintage Celtic Paul Pierce. You lift your defender with an up fake and then launch a shot while he’s coming down on you. “It was a six point game (49-43) when we got called for that foul in the corner,” lamented Coach Sokolnicki.
Jon calmly sank all three free throws. Later, with just over three minutes to go he put in long-range three to boost Gordon’s lead to 57-47.
The Scots scored all the points in the last 1 ½ minutes and won 65-50.
So one week after the exhilarating win at Endicott the Scots put another one in the win column. Certainly not in as exciting a way as at Endicott but after two excruciating non-league losses during the week any win was a source of relief.
“I really don’t think that we played that poorly this week (in those two losses),” recalled Coach Mike Schauer. “I think that the only person that was disappointing this week was me. I thought that our team handled all that stuff pretty well and responded with a good game today.”
Colby-Sawyer, Western New England, and UNE loom ahead away from the Bennett Center. Each would be a formidable challenge even at the Bennett Center. What will that 7-2 CCC record look like after these three toughies? I guess that is why they play the games – so we can find out!